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Where Social Media and Society Intersect

Two Lewis College of Human Sciences students, undergraduate psychology major Josh Guberman and technology and humanities Ph.D. student Xi Rao, presented posters at the 2016 ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing in San Francisco. Both students, who conduct social media-focused research, serve as research assistants to Libby Hemphill, assistant professor of communication and information studies.

Guberman’s presentation focused on how the content posted on popular social media can serve as a gauge for the aggression expressed by its users.

“In response to the toxicity sometimes found on social media sites like Twitter, we set out to create a scale that can measure aggression on these platforms. By adapting existing measures of aggression from the psychology literature to fit datasets of tweets, we have taken the first steps toward quantifying aggression on Twitter,” he says. “We crowdsourced the coding of our dataset using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk web service. Future steps, currently being worked on by M.S. student Carol Schmitz, include automating the detection of aggressive tweets.”

This project is part of Hemphill’s Collective Action and Social Media Lab, which explores the role that social computing technologies play in helping to encourage civic engagement. The research team is working to produce a model of the relationship between the two, one that will help explain in what contexts, under what conditions, and with what affordances social media can increase civic engagement. At the core of this study, funded by the National Science Foundation, is an examination of how social media are used as tools for collective action. In a separate study the team is assessing the relationship between producers and consumers of film and television, to examine how celebrities and their fans use social media and the impacts of those uses.

In her social media study of the Asian American Chicago Network (AACN), Rao, who also is a member of the aggression and celebrity-fan research projects, is hoping to learn more about how posted content can offer insight into the immigrant population. She says, “My current research investigates the behavior of AACN on social media with computing methods, in order to examine the identity and the need of immigrants in Chicago. Early results demonstrate that members regard AACN not only as a community to maintain their traditional culture, but also a network to seek and offer professional working opportunities.”